09/21/2006

Katrina Contractor Agrees to Pay Wages to Unpaid Workers

The Center has entered into an agreement with Belfor USA Group to ensure that migrant workers laboring in post-Katrina New Orleans receive wages that were withheld from them by Belfor subcontractors.

Belfor, one of the largest disaster reconstruction companies in the country, has performed significant reconstruction work throughout the Gulf Coast region. The Center brought suit against the company after it learned that several subcontractors of Belfor were denying workers the overtime wages to which they were entitled.

Instead of defending the lawsuit, Belfor launched an internal investigation regarding the pay practices of subcontractors. That investigation concluded that, in fact, certain subcontractors had not been appropriately paying overtime wages to their employees. Consequently, Belfor entered into an agreement with the Center to ensure that every worker on a Belfor job receives the full amount of wages to which he or she is entitled.

The agreement was recently approved by U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey.

"This is a tremendous victory for hundreds of workers who responded to this country's direst need and endured difficult working conditions only to be cheated on payday," said Jennifer Rosenbaum, a lawyer with the Center's Immigrant Justice Project.

Belfor's legal director, Bob Martens, said: "Belfor has consistently been the industry leader in disaster reconstruction, and when alerted to this issue, our focus was to ensure that workers received the monies to which they were entitled."

Over the course of the next year, Belfor and the Center will work together to identify additional workers who may have gone unpaid and to ensure that appropriate payment is made. Further, as part of the agreement, Belfor has implemented additional protocols to ensure that these issues do not arise with its subcontractors on future catastrophic losses.

"This is a fair result for workers who helped rebuild the city," Rosenbaum said. "What's even more important is that this company is setting a good example for other major corporations employing thousands of workers in New Orleans. We applaud Belfor's efforts to resolve this dispute despite its firmly held belief that it was not liable for the conduct of its subcontractors. We look forward to working with and using Belfor as a model to bring all contractors into compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act."